I’m nearly at the end of my first time round teaching GCSE Computing and something has been bothering me. I decided to leave the topic of networking until the end, because I think it’s one of the hardest and also because I thought it would be beneficial to do it in Year 11 when my students are at their most knowledgeable. So I am teaching such objectives as:
“f) explain the terms IP addressing, MAC addressing, packet and protocols”
Eh? That’s quite a big ask really, isn’t it. My Year 11 group are as sharp as a hedgehog carrying a bag of knives to a cactus convention, so when I offer my GCSE level definitions with a casual “this is the stuff you need to know for the exam” I get questions along the lines of:
- Why does a computer on a LAN need a MAC address and an IP address?
- If packets are addressed to and from an IP address, how does that work when IP addresses are allocated dynamically?
- Is it possible for someone with malicious intentions to create two pieces of hardware with the same MAC address? or to ‘steal’ your MAC address?
- If a web server has an IP address which is looked up via DNS, how is it possible to host multiple websites on the same server with different domain names?
Now if you read the textbook, it just glosses over all of these things, which is sort of fair enough because a GCSE textbook isn’t meant to be a comprehensive tome on networking. I’m also not saying that I either don’t already know the answer or am lacking the ability to look up the answer to these things. The point I’m making is not that I need some help googling this stuff – stand down industry, I’ve turned off the bat signal. I’m stuck in a hideous choose your own adventure game where you can’t cheat and turn ahead. Do I…
a) Say “that’s not on the spec, don’t worry about that”
(crushing the student’s natural curiosity and undermining their confidence in me)
b) Say “I don’t know but I think it’s probably because of x…”
(fudge over the details until they get bored, not something I enjoy doing to my students, and something they HATE)
c) Tell the student the real answer
(and in the process waste lesson time on something that isn’t going to come up in the exam, confusing some students and opening up all sorts of other “but why is THAT” time sink questions)
No option is acceptable. It’s like when I did GCSE Biology and then I found out afterwards that everything I had learnt was actually a vastly simplified version of reality. And the cake being a lie doesn’t stop at GCSE – it’s all over A-Level as well. Computer architecture and processor design? A lie. Compilers? Lies. Networking? Still fib-a-licious. I really hope Professor Davenport doesn’t show up and say that everything in Uni networking lectures was a lie too otherwise I might cry.
So what do YOU do about this?